by Michelle C. Pardo
The COVID pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our daily lives. While the media has been rightly focused on the overwhelming effect on our health care system and impacts on hourly and tipped workers and small businesses, coverage of our country’s zoological institutions during this worldwide crisis has been largely absent. But the impact on zoological facilities across our country is real and profound. The loss of revenue from ticket and concession sales, special events, and donations will likely hamper zoo operations for the foreseeable future. Cash-strapped Americans may have less available funds to donate to non-profit organizations. But zoological institutions may have much more difficulty cutting costs and limiting operations than other types of businesses and face a much more severe financial impact from the pandemic.
Unlike businesses that can order all employees to work from home and shut their doors, zoos, aquariums, marine mammal and wildlife parks have much more complex operational challenges. First and foremost, even during a pandemic, our zoological facilities must continue to provide their animals with daily care, including husbandry, veterinary care, and enrichment. That means that animal caregivers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, zoo management and personnel cannot just shelter in place at home and wait out the pandemic. Maintaining zoo operations requires a healthy staff that can come to work, even if children and family members are home from school or sick. Zoos are also struggling with supply chain issues. The amount of food, products and supplies that zoos require to maintain their animal collection is staggering, and the impact on deliveries and product availability will likely continue to be a pressing issue.
Some zoos are turning to creative measures to engage with the public in a “virtual” way. From posting animal videos on social media, to animal sponsorship (“adopting” an animal), these methods attempt to link the public with animals during this time of crisis and create avenues for sponsorship and donations.
What can we do to support our zoos, aquariums, marine mammal and wildlife parks during this difficult time?
- Consider a donation, no matter how small. Non-profit zoos have platforms to “donate” that are accessible online. Visit their websites and search for the “donate” options. Donations need not be sizeable — there is great power in $10 donations if thousands of people are making them. For-profit zoological institutions often have non-profit partners that fund important animal rescue, conservation and research programs. These programs need your help as well.
- Become a member. Zoo memberships which often have additional perks like discounts at gift shops and concessions or free parking and access to VIP events. Membership fees greatly assist with zoo operating expenses and zoos will be even more dependent on these funds during and post-pandemic.
- Make plans to visit! When life returns to normal — and it will — make plans to visit your local zoos, aquariums, and marine mammal parks either as a daily visitor or attending special events. Many zoological institutions offer creative and exciting programs — such as summer camps, special access and VIP programs, food and wine experiences and family sleepovers. These are great ways to learn about a myriad of species and support our zoological institutions’ bottom line.
- Corporate sponsorship and donations. Corporate sponsorship and in-kind donations are important to zoological institutions, even in normal operating times. While many businesses may be suffering from loss of revenue, for those that get back on their feet and want to make meaningful contributions, reach out to zoological institutions and consider a sponsorship or donation of necessary products. Zoos patrons and visitors will appreciate your generosity.
And, if you know someone who works with animals — from caregivers, to veterinary staff, to those who maintain their food supply and habitats, thank them for what they are doing and pledge your support. We are, after all, in this together!